The Swarm exhibit by Tasha Lewis in Breckenridge has been showcased around the world |

The Swarm exhibit by Tasha Lewis in Breckenridge has been showcased around the world

Artist Tasha Lewis creates an art installation by placing magnetized cyanotype butterflies on a metal building in a Breckenridge alley, Friday, Aug. 12.
Louie Traub / Special to the Daily |

If you go

What: The Swarm and The Herd exhibit by Tasha Lewis

When: On display all day during BIFA until Aug. 21

Where: The Herd is at Old Masonic Hall, The Swarm travels throughout downtown Breckenridge

Cost: Free

The bright blue magnetic butterflies began their migration through Breckenridge last week, first overtaking the Old Masonic Hall, before descending on fences, newspaper boxes and other metallic surfaces. Moving multiple times a day, The Swarm, an art installation consisting of 2,000 cyanotype butterflies by Tasha Lewis, exhibits the dynamic force of nature in a public space.

“The butterflies, when they are in the guerilla mode — so when they’re on objects and urban spaces — it’s sort of about awareness and focusing on what you are walking by every day,” Lewis said. “Also focusing on — because they only stick to metal objects — focusing on the man-made parts of our environment. … It’s this natural object recontextualized in the urban world and highlighting the man-made parts of that urban or rural area.”

The short-term spectacle can be seen throughout downtown as part of the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA). Inspired by themes of environment and mountain culture, the 10-day festival brings together a variety of performances, exhibitions, screenings and workshops, along with a mix of music, dance, film, visual arts and family entertainment. The festival continues until Sunday, Aug. 21.

Lewis, who was in Breckenridge for the first five days of the festival before heading back to her home in Jersey City, has two installations on exhibit for the festival. Besides The Swarm, her exhibit The Herd features sculptures of antelopes, impalas and gazelles leaping high through the air, with many animals appearing to emerge from, or disappear into, surrounding walls.

“For the butterflies and for The Herd, it was an idea of engaging with the idea of a natural specimen, so what would be in a natural history museum,” Lewis said. “Trying to give them a little bit more agency and a little bit more dynamism.”

So instead of a deer head hanging on a wall like a trophy, it is breaking through the wall, she said. For the butterflies, it was how to break them free from the geometry of a butterfly drawer and let them loose out of the gallery space.

The activeness of the installation follows the themes of BIFA: environment, adventure and engaging the community.

“It’s almost like they are jumping through walls; it’s very 3-D and it’s very cool,” said Robb Woulfe of The Herd, president and CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts, organizers of the BIFA festival. “These very unexpected experiences — people are like, ‘Wow, there’s 2,000 butterflies that are on the bridge, what is that?’ … It starts a conversation, and it’s something different, it’s something interesting.”


The butterfly exhibit has swarmed more places than just Breckenridge. In 2012 and 2013, she traveled to places such as Indiana, Chicago, New York City, Hawaii, California and more with the exhibit. In 2014 during a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, she was inspired to create a global project. By mid-summer 2014, Lewis had received more than 500 email requests from potential collaborators, and she mapped their locations and selected those with the best fit and seemed the most dedicated to the project. There are now more than 200 people in 86 different countries who have participated in The Swarm project.

“The butterflies are a tool that anyone can use and cover public space,” she said.

To help with the shipping costs, Lewis started a Kickstarter campaign, raising $10,000 to get the project around the world.


The butterflies are printed on fabric and embedded with magnets, so they can be moved and reinstalled around town, activating the space wherever they land. Lewis hosted a workshop for the community on Friday, where 15 to 20 people showed up to learn how to make the butterflies. She had set aside 300 of the 2,000 butterflies she made for the festival, and participants helped her set them up outside on fences and newspaper boxes.

Before the workshop, other community members set the butterflies up on the side of a barn, behind the Starbucks and a bridge across the river. BIFA organizers will continue to move the installation around town for the rest of the festival.

“The idea is that the butterflies are migrating, alighting one object for a few moments, and it’s really about the experience of the people putting them up, about the people who happen to walk by,” she said. “You walk by one day you see them, and then they’re not there the next day. You witness a short-term spectacle, and that’s what they are about.”

After the festival, the 2,000 butterflies will remain in Breckenridge. The Herd installation is for sale but will travel back to Jersey City if not sold.

Lewis said both her installations reflect her interest in creating whimsy and beauty in her work.

“Art for me is about creating objects that people are attracted to and interested in and want to look closer at and spend time with and study.”

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